‘You can’t know what a person or a community needs, until they first know what they have. ‘ John McKnight, Co-Director, ABCD Institute quotes Mick Ward, Deputy Director, Integrated Commissioning, Adult Social Care, Leeds City Council and Leeds North Clinical Commissioning Group.
He adds “As we move further towards implementing ‘strength based social care’, there has been a real focus on ensuring we really understand and can help develop the strengths of individuals seeking support. However, this has to go hand in hand with understanding what is happening in local communities and neighbourhoods, so we can support people to access local resources, feel connected to their community, and as a result help them to blossom.” Mick Ward tells us more about this new way of working.
“However, unless staff , whether you work for the council, the NHS or a commissioned service, know what is happening in the local area/neighbourhood in which you work this will be difficult to achieve. This is compounded by the fact that we increasingly do not live near the area in which we work: a very unscientific survey at the last staff engagement event showed that less than 10% of ASC staff lived within a mile of where they work. In fact, there was a view held for a long time that social care staff shouldn’t live in the same area that they work in, and whilst I understand some of the reasons behind this, it feels more appropriate for a time when we descended on a community to ‘do to people’ rather than now, as we increasingly work to ‘do with’ individuals and communities.
Now I am not proposing that everyone has to move down the street from where they work, though that would mean me having to get a nice apartment in Park Square!, but I do think there are a few things we can all do to build our knowledge of the local area in which we work:
- Walk the streets
You can’t beat seeing somewhere yourself to understand what’s on offer. See if you can walk in to work, walk to meetings, or in the spirit of health and well-being at work set up a walking group and arrange walks across the area, and whilst doing so, note services, community resources, and just pop in.
- Go to local events
Pretty much every area in Leeds will have its own major annual event, such as a fair or a fete, but also festivals, organisation’s AGMs, and other cultural events— all these are great for understanding the area where you work and meeting people. Often, one contact will lead to another and of course many of these are fun and interesting in their own right.
- Share your space
Are you able to offer meeting rooms in your office or other facilities to local groups for the occasional session or event? Could you have your meetings in other local venues? Local groups often like the chance to meet up with their partners and to showcase what they do, so you will often be pushing at an open door if you ask.
- Notice boards
Make sure you have a vibrant notice board in your office and take notice of those in other organisations’ buildings, community groups, supermarkets, pharmacies and the post office. These are a great source of information on activities, identifying key people, and a chance for you to show what you are doing or want to promote further.
- Know your local organisations
Of course there are key third sector organisations working or based in your area, make sure you are known to them and you know what they offer. But also health centres, libraries, sports centres, schools, arts and faith organisations often host group activities. They are a great source of information locally and it’s important to get to know colleagues based there.
Many organisations produce newsletters, check out the local free newspapers too; most are on-line now and you can subscribe to them, or there are many printed ’what’s on’ booklets delivered to residents or available in cafés and community hubs. These might trip an idea, or stick with you for when you need that extra bit of information.
- Access social media
If you use social media – follow your local organisations and key individuals. Twitter, Snapchat and Facebook often advertise events or provide links to other organisations. Think about how you can use these to promote your work or other partner organisation’s activities.
- Know your community connectors
Who are the key people in this community? Community connectors are the people everyone seems to know – find out who they are, and arrange to meet up with them. Often an informal chat will really help understand what’s going on in your area.
- Network Network Network
That’s it – this is a relationship business, you can’t commission, project manage or create a service improvement plan to make this work. Just get out there!
- Be local
As I said at the start, I am not suggesting we all have to move to the area we work, but we can all be a bit more local to the area we work in. Can you do your shopping in the area rather than on the way home? Can you have your work social events in the local cafes, pubs or restaurant? It all helps to support the local economy and you also become familiar with and to businesses and organisations that have that knowledge about local information and resources.
I believe that working in this way has three key outcomes that really benefit strength based social care;
Firstly, knowledge: If we are to promote individual and community strengths, and to ensure people are supported by the local community, we have to recognise that for many people we are a key source of that information. Therefore it is vital we know what is going on in the area and this knowledge should be way beyond traditional social care services.
Secondly, identity: The key to working with, rather than doing to, is a sense of shared ambitions, goals and plans. If we can start from being in the same place, in this case literally, through a shared identity with the local area and neighbourhood, it is far easier to work together and to build on the strengths of that community.
Finally and perhaps most importantly, pride: In order to really harness the assets of a local community you have to believe in them. If we as workers have that pride in a neighbourhood and community, we will be the ones fighting for it and celebrating it and as a result we will be focused on ‘What’s strong not what’s wrong’to quote Cormac Russell
The tips in this blog are also available in a slightly different form as a briefing from Kate.firstname.lastname@example.org
In addition you can keep up to date through Leeds Directory ‘what’s on’:
Check it out before visiting people, or look at it with them and don’t forget to add your own knowledge as it develops. And remember to share what you find with your team or add it to the Leeds Directory so others can also find out about it.